Nail Gun Safety Tips

Nail guns are highly useful tools for fastening wood and other materials together quickly and efficiently. They have made hand nailing virtually obsolete for professional builders and now for do it yourselfers as well.

The biggest advantage of nail guns is their ability to rapidly fire a fastener into the substrate and to do so repeatedly. In high speed applications like framing and roofing nails, the nail guns are usually set to fire a nail anytime the muzzle makes contact with the surface as long as the trigger is pulled. They can fire rapidly almost like an automatic weapon.

Last week, while doing a minor carpentry project in my barn, I was reminded of just how fast a large framing nail gun can deliver three inch framing nails.

While nailing in some bridging between floor joists, I was holding the bridging lumber with one hand and the nail gun the other. As I was building some overhead storage to get some of the clutter off the floor, I was standing on some of the soon to be stored clutter. Not exactly stable footing.

When using a nail gun with a contact trip, like most framing nail guns are set for, you have to have just the right touch to prevent the gun recoil from causing it to fire a second nail right on top of the first one. Normally this is easy as you just swing the gun and let it bounce off the work as the nail fires.

However, if you are trying to put a nail just where you want it, you can also compress the muzzle and then pull the trigger to fire the nail. This works well when you develop the right touch to let the gun recoil off the work piece. Experienced carpenters do it all the time.

However, if you happen to loose your balance just as you pull the trigger, I found it is possible to fire not just two but three nails into the same hole. Only the first one makes it in – the other two go off in random directions.

Fortunately this time, I mostly missed my body parts that were in line with the nail path and got by with just a minor scratch on my thumb. It did swell up nicely and still hurts a bit today.

So here are some nail gun safety tips to add to the list in the owners manual:

1. Understand the difference between sequential trip trigger and contact trip triggers. Be sure you are using the right one for the right work. The Bostich catalog has a good description of how each trigger works and when they should be used.

2. When trying to accurately place a fastener with a contact trip nail gun, be as sure of your target and the backdrop as you would if you were firing a pistol. There is always the possibility of a double shot that will not be contained by the wood. Keep body parts out of the possible line of fire.

3. When using a pneumatic nail gun, be alert to the added hazard of the air hose. Compressed air has its own hazards, but having an air hose stretched through a construction site adds to the already hazardous environment. Watching roofers with pneumatic nail guns always reminds me of the story about Mark Twain in the city: He said one day he saw a fellow on a ledge threatening to jump. A large crowd had gathered below but Mark Twain said he was the only one in the group with the presence of mind to throw him a rope and pull him down. The air hose always looks like someone has already thrown the roofers a rope.

4. When holding a work piece to be nailed, be aware that the force of the nail gun will drive through any obstacle in the wood like knots or other fasteners. The path through the wood is not always certain however. Nails have been know to come out the side of wood and in some cases even made a U turn and come back at the gun. Keep you hand at least the length of the fastener you are shooting away from the muzzle at all times when joining wood.

5. Don’t use rusty fasteners. Using old nails in a nail gun can not only damage the gun, but they can send rust and scale out toward the operator. Be sure to use new clean nails for safe operation.

6. Wear your safety glasses or face shield. Not only can the nail gun send errant nails your way, but the force of the nailing operating can splinter the substrate as well. And if you ignored number six above, rust and scale can be ejected as well. So protect your eyes. It is a lot easier to use a nail gun safely when you can wee what you are working with.

7. Maintain the nail gun properly. Regular maintenance and lubrication will reduce the possibility of jams and misfires that require potentially dangerous repairs and unjamming procedures.

8. Read and follow all the manufactures safety rules and procedures. They have likely already been sued over something there